Sunday, September 27, 2015

Does foreign aid really do good? [no specific author cited]

Image from article, with caption: Afghan refugees rush for blankets during a relief distribution in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008. Nationwide cold weather, snowstorms and avalanches have claimed at least 654 lives and more than 100,000 sheep and goats, according to the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Commission. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Although aid is traditionally divided into two main types, development aid and humanitarian aid, one can categorize American aid in terms of the places it's sent, bearing in mind some amount of foreign assistance goes to 100 countries.
There is aid given to genuinely poor countries in an honest effort to help needy people there. Then there is aid to relatively wealthy states whose elites are too irresponsible to take care of their own people. A good example is the aid the United States sends to India, a country that can afford to send rockets to Mars and which has its own growing aid program, but whose ruling elite is content to tolerate rates of malnutrition, illiteracy and curable disease that are worse than those of sub-Saharan Africa.
A third category is aid given as a foreign policy bribe. This is not the same thing as aid used as a tool of public diplomacy, because its target is a foreign country's ruling elite. The most obvious examples are Egypt and Pakistan. America gives Egypt money and in return the enriched Egyptian military, with its prestigious American weaponry, promises not to attack Israel. U.S. aid to Egypt has preserved peace, but it has not been successful in its secondary purpose of promoting economic development and political stability. ...
A fifth, linked category is aid used for the purpose of public diplomacy. This has become increasingly controversial in the aid community.
Controversies about the utility and effectiveness of aid do not necessarily break down along conventional Left vs. Right ideological lines. Interestingly, people who identified with the Left rather than the Right have recently argued that foreign aid does not win friends for America and should not be seen as a useful tool of public diplomacy.
They often refer to Pakistan and a study that showed that American humanitarian aid after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake did not have a lasting positive effect on Pakistani attitudes toward the United States. This is a problematic argument, not least because Pakistan is a special case. It is a heavily aided country in which key state actors foster anti-Americanism and have done so for a long time. An American rescue effort in one corner of the country was never likely to win over the population, especially as the state played down that effort in order to make its own efforts seem less feeble.
Moreover, those who insist that aid does not win friends abroad or influence foreign populations may have philosophical and ideological reasons for taking such a view. Many in the aid industry prefer to see aid as something that should be given without regard to any benefit to the donor country, other than that feeling of having done the right thing that comes from an altruistic act. Others are politically hostile to efforts by Western governments to win hearts and minds as part of the war on terrorism.
My experiences in aided countries in Africa and South Asia tend to contradict this argument. In Somalia, for example, the vital but decayed highway between the capital and the coast is still referred to affectionately as "the Chinese Road" some three decades after it was built. ...
It is probably fair to say that effective foreign aid can win friends for America, but mainly on a local basis and only if it reflects genuine local needs and preferences, and if the beneficiary population is not already steeped in anti-American prejudice.

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